“The gravity of the land problem continues to compel farmers to organize themselves and struggle for social justice.”
MANILA – Hundreds of peasants and other progressives marched to Mendiola on March 31, calling on President Duterte to put a halt to the continuing spate of killings of peasant activists by suspected state forces and private armies of landlords.
The march was timed just before the fourth round of peace talks between the Government of the Republic of the Philippines (GRP) and the National Democratic Front of the Philippines (NDFP) on April 2, which is expected to discuss social and economic reforms that will address the roots of the armed conflict, foremost of which is poverty and landlessness.
The groups also called for the withdrawal of military troops, whose presence in peasant and indigenous communities has “sown terror” and led to human rights violations.
Human rights group Karapatan has documented 46 activists killed under the Duterte administration, with four peasants killed in Compostela Valley, just last week. From February to March, 22 peasants have been killed. Most of the victims were activists opposed to mining, agribusiness plantations and militarization in their communities.
“The Duterte government must show its seriousness in talking peace. He can do so by stopping AFP’s attack dogs and rein in the peace spoilers inside his government and the military establishment,” said Hustisya chairperson Evangeline Hernandez.
The Kilusang Magbubukid ng Pilipinas (KMP) and #StopTheKillings Network recalled the April 1 Kidapawan shooting, and decried how state terror and neglect continues even under Duterte. In Kidapawan City on April 1 last year, two men were killed when state forces opened fire on the barricade of peasants demanding rice subsidy for their drought-hit communities.
“The government’s so-called Development Support and Security Plan or Oplan Kapayapaan is a mere continuation of previous regimes’ fascist and US-instigated counter insurgency programs that have failed miserably to address the root causes of the armed conflict and instead took a great number of civilian lives,” said Antonio Flores, KMP secretary general.
Among the protesters were 70 members of the Madaum Agrarian Reform Beneficiaries, Inc. (MARBAI) who came all the way from Madaum, Tagum City in Southern Mindanao to drumbeat their dispute against the Lapanday Foods Corp. (LFC).
Also with Marbai are farmers belonging to the Mailuminado Farmers’ Association, Inc. (Mafai), who are cultivating lands being claimed as educational reserve by Cotabato Foundation College for Science and Technology (CFCST) in Arakan town, North Cotabato.
Since last year, the Marbai farmworker-beneficiaries have been asserting their right to 119 hectares of lands, which has been utilized by LFC for its banana plantation, under the Agribusiness Ventures Agreement (AVA). KMP said Lapanday has displaced and “dispossessed” the farmworkers who were then subjected to armed attacks by Lapanday security forces when they tried to reclaim the land.
Anakpawis Partylist Rep. Ariel Casilao has filed House Resolution 634, which called for an investigation on the December 12, 2016 shooting of Marbai members by LFC guards.
Makabayan Coalition solons, including Casilao have also filed 12 house resolutions urging a congressional probe on the extra-judicial killings of farmers.
Casilao urged Duterte to heed the peasantry’s calls for a land and a halt to the attacks. “There is no let-up for farmers’ protests, these lakbayan or protest caravans will be repeated over and over, until the Duterte government concretize measures for genuine agrarian reform, protection of farmers’ rights to land and immediate stop to militarization in the countryside,” he said.
For decades, KMP has campaigned for genuine agrarian reform, in essence, breaking the monopoly of the landlord class and the free distribution of lands to the tiller, which they say will fuel national industrialization. Such features are also in the NDFP draft of the Comprehensive Agreement on Social and Economic Reforms (Caser).
“Landlessness of farmers is still among the major problems of the people, causing perpetual poverty and hunger, especially as all the land reform programs of past regimes have failed. The gravity of the land problem continues to compel farmers to organize themselves and struggle for social justice even as they become targets of brutal force by the military and other armed instruments of a state that generally protects the interest of big landlords and foreign corporations,” Flores said.